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Chase Headley: From Overrated to Underrated?

It’s probably hard to overstate just how hyped Chase Headley was after his massive 2012, isn’t it? Were it not for the presence of Miguel Cabrera at the hot corner, Headley would have been the best hitting third baseman that season, thanks to his 31 homers, 115 RBI, and 17 steals. While there was something to be said for the fact that a ridiculous second-half hot streak was unsustainable and that he’d hit just 4 homers the year before, it was hard to see him not continuing to be very good in 2013, especially since the fences were coming in at Petco.

And then… *thwomp.* Headley’s home runs fell from 31 to 13.  His RBI dropped by more than half, to just 50, his batting average fell to a career-low .250, and for the first time in a full season, he stole fewer than 10 bases.

Anybody who had used a high draft pick on Headley or were otherwise counting on him walked away sorely disappointed, as he fell all the way to #20 on our end of season rankings.  So what was it? Was he seeing the downside of that late 2012 hot streak? Was he never that good in the first place?

From this point of view, there’s good news here: by all accounts, Headley was never fully healthy in 2013. It may seem weird to say “it’s okay, he was hurt!” but if you’re looking for reasons why he didn’t perform, that’s a good place to start. The first injury was obvious, because it prevented him from starting the season — he fractured his left thumb in a spring game and didn’t make his debut until April 17.

For a while, that was fine. Headley was hitting .296/.402/.500 after his first month of play, but it went downhill quickly after that. Headley hit just .183/.270/.257 in June, and had a mere three homers in June, July, and August, before a September hot streak made his numbers look slightly more presentable.

But, as we soon found out after the season, there was more to the story, when we found out that Headley would require left knee surgery to fix a joint that had been bothering him “since Spring Training”, and it’s incredibly difficult to believe that it had no effect on his year.

Still, if you look at the metrics, 2013 Headley wasn’t entirely different than career-average Headley. His .330 wOBA was just a touch under his .337 career mark, and his HR/FB of 10.9% was basically on target. He actually sacrificed some grounders for line drives, which is a good thing, and his BB and K rates were all but normal.

So the main difference here is that he couldn’t maintain his 2012 HR/FB rate of 21.4% — and let’s be honest, that was never happening — and his steals and BABIP were down from usual. It’s pretty easy to think that those two things are connected to his knee and his thumb, and that’s why I like him as a bounceback candidate in 2014, if only because his inability to repeat his 2012 got people so, so down on him.

However, if you’re expecting another 2012, you’re going to be disappointed. Headley’s not a superstar, and he’s not Cabrera or David Wright. He is an above-average fantasy third baseman when healthy, and should be valued as such.